LARRY MANETTI INTERVIEW
Prior to shooting in Hawaii in October 2015, Larry Manetti kindly agreed to share his memories of Rockford and Magnum director Lawrence Doheny (1924-82).
Do you remember how you first met?
It was a bright sunny summer morning, 6:30 am. The crew and I were chomping on donuts for breakfast, and as I sipped my coffee I looked up into the face of Lawrence Doheny. He was dressed in jeans and a white shirt, and he had a red bandana around his neck. LD said, "Might you be Irish, on this fine sunny day, lad?"
"No, Sir", I replied, "Italian."
"What's your name?", asked LD.
"Well, from now on you are my little James Cagney." We were on the set of Baa Baa Black Sheep, and it was the start of a great friendship.
What was your collaboration on Black Sheep like?
I was brand new to acting, and LD knew this. He was very encouraging toward me and would take his time on every scene, so that I could understand it. Whenever I got upset he would put his hand on my head and say, "If you want to be good, it takes time and patience." He and Robert Conrad thought there was something that would explode in me. I feel without LD's understanding I would have been in big trouble.
Based on your own Rockford Files experience, why was LD hired for that series that much? After all, James Garner kept saying, "We don't usually have directors who do episodic TV."
James Garner was extremely nice, and he ran his set as a well-oiled machine. Larry Doheny was found and brought to the series by Stephen J. Cannell. LD was really a feature director from New York City. James Garner was so impressed with his easy-going personality and fantastic directing that LD found a home at The Rockford Files.
Paul Michael Glaser and James Garner in a publicity shot for Find Me If You Can, an episode of The Rockford Files directed by Lawrence Doheny (c) Universal Television/NBC
Could you pin down inhowfar he was different from other directors, both as a person and with respect to working methods? Which were the qualities that both actors and producers appreciated?
LD was a big piece of chocolate: bruise his feathers and you were in for a fight. He was no pussycat. He demanded respect, and he got it without shoving anyone. He reminded me of the great John Ford, the director who started John Wayne's career. LD walked soft and carried a hickory stick.
LD did the bulk of the first season of Magnum, p.i. How do you think he fared?
Larry and Magnum, p.i. went together like sliced bread. Tom Selleck adored him, Charles Johnson praised him. Like The Rockford Files, Magnum, p.i. was also a well-oiled machine. We knew that with the Irishman in charge we were in good hands. LD was a guy who would help an ant.
In your book, you said Robert Loggia was the understudy director to Lawrence Doheny. How, exactly, did this work?
Robert Loggia was an extremely talented actor who had studied with Paul Newman and Steve McQueen in New York. Ours is a tough business, as all actors find out sooner or later, and he had to pay his rent. So Larry would teach Robert Loggia to direct. He said, "Be ready tomorrow at 5:30 a.m." He turned out to be a Stephen J. Cannell favourite, and a wonderful director.
During Magnum, Don Bellisario had words with Loggia. With Don, if it didn't go his way you were the way of the highway. Don fired Loggia on Christmas. A jerk!!!
Jake Hoopai, Bruce Johnson, Tom Selleck in Tropical Madness, an episode of Magnum, p.i. directed by Lawrence Doheny (c) Universal Television/CBS
What was LD's response to crisis situations?
When in the first season of Magnum, p.i. a helicopter went down and killed a young cameraman, Larry was directing and was there for the entire incident*. He saw the accident happen and cried like a baby. However, Larry had to keep the crew and cast together. He led us all with a prayer. God, it was a horrible accident. We all still mourn it to this day. I am sure the insurance from Universal studios took care of the young cameraman's wife and baby.
Any and all crisis were handled by LD as the professional he was. The assistant director training he went through in New York as a young man enabled him to power through any and all problems. With his Irish temperament, he made all bad situations look small. They never lasted long.
Do you remember any frictions that he caused?
No, Larry never started trouble. On the contrary, he softly made it vanish.
How would you describe his working relationship with the stars?
There were no problems for him to get actors. Every actor wanted to work for him. In his day, there were movie stars and TV stars. All TV stars wanted Doheny!!
Larry Manetti with Gerald McRaney in Ki I's Don't Lie, an episode of Magnum, p.i. directed by Lawrence Doheny (c) Universal Television/CBS
When he was working, what exactly did he do particularly well?
Being a great director, he was well versed in all assets of filming. Story was important, the actors were important. You had to tell the story - Larry always had it laid out in his head -, have good camera angles, and correct set-ups and decisions were platinum.
Did he give actors room to "breathe"?
Whenever he worked with the cast of Magnum, p.i., he would let us try whatever we liked. He always made us do one take per script for the studio.
Did your friendship extend beyond the set?
Yes. He was at my home many times for supper. My wife Nancy always had a big bowl of soup for him. He was always ready with that beaming face to give her a hug and a kiss.
Larry was one of the nicest, smartest, most well-respected men I have ever met. He was there for anyone with a problem or in trouble. He started actors' careers and those of young directors. And he was always a loving father and sincere husband - I never saw him look sideways at another woman. He talked about his family constantly.
Are you in contact with his family?
Yes. His grandson called a few months ago to tell me that LD's residuals had put him through college. I told him all about Gramps!
He was only in his late 50s when he passed away. How do you think his career would have developed?
If LD hadn't been taken from us so very young he would have been a giant in the entertainment business!
Nancy and I have a picture of him hanging in our home and we think about him daily. LD was as rich as Irish cream, and I miss him very much.
*A note from J. Rickley Dumm:
"I was the producer in Hawaii at the time and the incident happened on a 2nd unit shoot, not a 1st unit shoot; thus, Doheny and the actors and crew on the 1st unit were not present, but word did come back to the set, and all else is as [stated] - the prayer and sentiment of the tragedy, etc."
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